On Nov. 2, Rabbi Daniel Friedman left a meeting with representatives of the National Capital Commission (NCC) in Ottawa disappointed that the country’s new Holocaust monument will likely not be open for visitors this winter.
“Nobody wants to commit anything for this coming winter,” said Rabbi Friedman, chair of the National Holocaust Monument Development Council, the organization that raised funds for the edifice.
“I don’t know if it will be open this winter, or going forward,” he said, referring to next winter, as well.
Rabbi Friedman’s suspicion that the monument will be closed during the winter was confirmed by the NCC, which is responsible for the long-term maintenance and preservation of the monument.
“As for most NCC monuments, the National Holocaust Monument will be closed during winter, as snow-clearing operations can damage (it). The site will close about late fall, depending on when snow arrives, and reopen early spring, weather dependent, with a stanchion hooked in place at the three entry points,” the NCC stated in an email.
“Lighting above snow level will continue to operate through the winter, but the Flame of Remembrance and the elevator will be off.
“The decision not to open the National Holocaust Monument during the winter was taken to ensure its preservation.
“Snow removal equipment and salt would risk damaging both the structure and interpretative content.”
Nevertheless, Rabbi Friedman remains hopeful that a creative solution will keep the monument open. Even something as mundane as workers using shovels could do the trick, he said.
The National Holocaust Monument opened this past September. It consists of six triangular concrete structures in the shape of a Star of David.
It was inspired by the efforts of then-18-year-old student Laura Grossman, who lobbied politicians to build a monument. In 2011, a private member’s bill put forward by Conservative MP Tim Uppal got the ball rolling.
The Conservative government of the day pledged $4 million, if a development council, which came to be led by Rabbi Friedman, would match it.
During the design phase of the project, consideration was given to a snow melting system, but its $600,000 cost was deemed too great, Rabbi Friedman said.
With no roof, the outdoor monument is subject to the elements. Even its official opening had to be moved indoors, due to a rainstorm.
It also was surrounded in controversy, when a commemorative plaque failed to mention that Jews were the primary victim of the Holocaust.
Rabbi Friedman apologized for that gaffe.
The monument came up for discussion in Parliament on Oct. 25, when, during Question Period, Conservative MP Peter Kent blasted the government, saying: “First the Liberal government left mention of Jews off the National Holocaust Monument dedication plaque and muted the horrors of the extermination chambers with euphemisms. But now we learn that the Liberals, who doubled their modest deficit with their runaway $20 billion, Liberals who spent almost a quarter of a million dollars on an artsy budget cover, are economizing by not clearing snow at the National Holocaust Monument. The death camps operated year round. Why should Canada’s commemoration not?”
That prompted this response from Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly: “We were proud to stand with members on both sides of the House to inaugurate the National Holocaust Memorial, which commemorates the six million Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust, along with other victims. This government is completely committed to building a more inclusive society.
“I am surprised to hear these concerns coming from Opposition members, as the conversation was initiated under their watch.”
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs entered into the fray, as well.
Shimon Fogel, its CEO, said that, “While we understand that there may be some concerns about the use of heavy snow-removal equipment on the site, surely there are ways to undertake snow removal and ensure access to this important historical and educational exhibit year-round.”